Damage at Watoola Methodist Church

Damage is seen Monday inside Watoola United Methodist Church after severe tornadic weather blew through the area Sunday in Lee County.

They celebrate people's highs in life and grieve with them during its most devastating moments.

Members of the clergy are among the few trusted in those times.

As Lee County citizens continue to deal with the aftermath of the tornadoes that struck a week ago, pastors continue to stand alongside them. And they have been standing with them since the very beginning.

“We had 29 pastors at the hospital Sunday afternoon/evening ministering to the families," said the Rev. Laura Eason, chaplain at East Alabama Medical Center. "We had probably 10 pastors on the ground in Beauregard at Sanford Middle School, ministering to the families and the first responders on Sunday afternoon/evening."

Eason texted some clergy that Sunday, asking them to come and bring others.

“And 29 pastors showed up. Some came without even being called, just knew that it was a disaster and knew there were going to be injured coming to the hospital and just showed up and took an assignment," she said. "We had people praying and ministering with people all over this campus of East Alabama throughout the afternoon and evening and into the late night.

"So the clergy have been unbelievably incredible as a response to this disaster. They’ve done an amazing job."

On the mend

Eason said EAMC is putting together a coordinated effort with disaster relief called “mend: Rebuilding Lee County One Life at a Time.” One arm of “mend” is The Clergy Coalition, which has its initial meeting on Wednesday. The lunch meeting will be from noon to 2 p.m. for all area pastors at the EAMC Education Building, 2027 Pepperell Parkway, Opelika.

Other arms of the overall umbrella group will include businesses, service organizations, civic clubs, educators, mental health and more.

“People will be hearing a lot more about that (‘mend’) in the days to come,” Eason said.

The Rev. Sean Rezek, senior pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Opelika, was one of the pastors at the hospital the day of the storm.

“I have been very impressed with the way the clergy of the entire community has come together,” Rezek said.

He said several United Methodist pastors, pastors from other denominations and pastors from non-denominational churches were at the hospital Sunday, offering counseling and aid to the families as they were waiting for word about their loved ones.

“Many of us went the next day to Providence East…where the families were asked to go and make positive identification of their deceased loved ones, and we had many Methodist and other denominational and non-denominational pastors there…to serve in spiritual leadership," Rezek said. 

"And we also had the chaplain from the hospital that did a fantastic job in helping to organize that. They also brought in therapists and social workers, so we kind of had all three of those aspects covered for the families as they were having to make those really difficult IDs."

'A vital force'

Rezek said many of the clergy have been finding different ways to help. Trinity is hosting the group Eight Days of Hope, a rapid response disaster ministry team formed during Hurricane Katrina.

“It’s been an absolute joy working alongside with them,” he said.

The church is also a collection supply site and a monetary collection site. On Trinity’s website tumcopelika.org, Rezek said a link was created for tornado relief.

“A hundred percent, not 95 or 99, but 100 percent of all the money that we receive from those donations is going to go toward relief aid right here in Lee County,” he said.

“The clergy has been a vital force in trying to help comfort and meet the needs of the families that are hurting,” said the Rev. Clifford Jones, pastor of Greater Peace Missionary Baptist Church in Opelika. Donations have also been pouring into his church to help those affected.

“As a pastor, we have to be there for, first of all, for our own members. But because of that calling, wherever we see hurt and pain in the lives of people we try to put ourselves in position to help ease those pains," Jones said. "A lot of the people that are affected may not be members of certain clergy churches, but yet they are there to help meet the needs of those who are going through this tragedy.

“From across the state, a lot of pastors have been calling me, even outside of the state of Alabama, wanting to know what can they do and how they can help to ease the pain here.”

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